SUMAYYAH AJEM/THE VARSITY

The fidget spinner craze is all around us. Recently, 10 versions of this product — a small device with a ball bearing in the middle that you can spin and rotate with your fingers — were simultaneously listed among Amazon’s top 20 bestselling toys and games.

Fidget spinners are marketed as a way to help relieve stress and cope with anxiety and ADHD. But they’ve been banned in some schools across the US, UK, and Canada due to their distracting nature, and some have questioned their ability to relieve stress.

Fidgeting is the act of moving about restlessly, often as a result of nervousness, impatience, or boredom. ADHD experts have suggested that fidgeting is associated with the level of stimulation we receive. If something is not able to hold our attention, fidgeting increases attentiveness by distracting the part of the brain that is ‘bored’ in order to allow the other parts to focus. Fidgeting is also a natural response that helps manage high levels of stress.

Ironically, teachers and schools have complained that fidget spinners are distractions in classrooms. The majority of the students who use fidget spinners do not use them for their intended purpose; rather, the item is used as a toy rather than a stress reliever. Students who bring them to school can attract attention from their peers and distract others.

Fidget spinners may help some people, but according to experts, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that fidget spinners relieve stress or help individuals focus.

“There’s no universal recommendations of a particular toy for stress relief or a particular object for stress relief,” says clinical psychologist David Anderson, who specializes in ADHD and behaviour disorders, in a Business Insider video. Treatment for such conditions, Anderson explains, is determined on a case-by-case basis. 

While there is no conclusive evidence that fidget spinners do what they are intended to do, Anderson suggests in a Time article that other objects, like a stress ball, can provide an outlet for extra energy. Unlike the fidget spinner, which Anderson refers to as simply a “toy,” a stress ball allows a child to “get their wiggles out.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 6.4 million children in the US who have been diagnosed with ADHD, as of 2011. Scott Kollins, clinical psychologist, suggests in a National Public Radio article that many families looking for help are particularly vulnerable to buying into products like the fidget spinner.

“There’s not really quick and easy fixes like buying a toy,” Kollins explains. However, he emphasizes that there are well-studied and documented treatments that do work — according to the CDC, these include medication, behaviour therapy, or a combination of the two.

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